Pálinka aroma wheel 1.0 :
Several beverages have a so-called aroma wheel, which shows to the consumers their complex aroma world. We thought, that pálinka needs
such a graphic guide as well. This fresh initiative is based on the tasting notes of the pálinka judges of the 2017 and 2018 Pálinkas of Excellence selection.
We hope, that this path will earn the appreciation of the consumers and the expert community as well and with their help there is further chance
to develop, shape in the future, so that we can better cover the complex world of pálinka.
The professional tasting of pálinka
The word and concept of ‘pálinka’ for a wide range of audience is known in Hungary since the 1700´s. However a lot has changed in terms of the raw material for the production of pálinka over the centuries, thanks to the technological and agricultural backgrounds.
They brought the fact, that the noble drink got more attention, hence the culture of the pálinka consumption became richer, in which the consumer finds the right way. There are several interesting philosophies regarding the pálinka consumption, however it is worth considering in more detail the proper way of tasting, since the experience itself with every careful sip can change our opinion about pálinka for a lifetime.
It can further help us to differentiate between the unpleasant (faulty) and fine, excellent pálinkas as well as distinguish the aroma and flavour characteristics and create our own flavour preference too.
I found in a number of cases during presentations, how someone’s opinion can change into a positive direction about pálinka, just after an appropriate way of tasting.
A few key points worth to consider:
Several trials have shown that the most ideal is the 20°C, as more than 1200 aroma components reveal themselves, hence this is the best temperature to experience the most in terms of aroma and flavours.
Pálinka should not be kept in the fridge. The average 5-10°C temperature mutes the aroma components, the experience will be lost. However, the cool temperature may help to subdue the flavour components in those pálinkas, which have been badly separated, the unwanted tail fraction is less visible in these, hence it tricks the consumer. If we don´t have a well-tempered chamber or cellar, the bottle of pálinka could well be placed for a short time into the fridge to chill it down to the right temperature, yet it is easier, if we place the glass into the fridge. The – warm – pálinka, poured in the chilled glass, has all the chance to reveal its beauty.
If the pálinka is cold – despite all the good intentions, it was in the fridge – and we are inpatient, we don’t have enough time to wait for the right temperature, rinse the glass with warm water – polish the glass dry – and sip it this way.
Form of the glass
Similarly to other alcoholic beverages the main task is here as well, that the aromas of the pálinka reach the nose in their fullest form. The ideal glass is the one, which has a foot to stand on it, stem to hold it, the bowl has a tulip like shape, narrow at the bottom and at the rim slightly turning outside. The shape reassures the optimal interaction with the air, so that the aroma molecules can go up the nostrils during the tasting. The glass should be touched at either by the foot or the stem. With this we do two things: do not leave fingerprints on the bowl and we can enjoy the visual beauty of the pálinka, as well as it will not be warmed up by our hand.
The glass should never be filled completely, as the aroma molecules have to evaporate on the surface. The sum of the quantity in the glass should be – depending on the size of the glass – around 1.5 to 3 cl.
Only that pálinka should be consumed, which scent, aroma we like! This means, let´s believe our nose. If there is an unpleasant aroma, as we have a different aroma preference, or it is a faulty fractioned pálinka, it does not have to be tasted. Non-competition judges must not put their opinion to the side, they can well say no to that pálinka.
However, if we like the aroma, we shall consume slowly, sip by sip and let it breathe as well. The majority of the pálinkas can be consumed straight after they are poured. On the other side there are aged and bedded samples, similar to the full-bodied red wine, they might need more time to open up. It´s worth to let them rest for 2-3 minutes after pouring.
There can be huge differences, if we bring the necessary patience! Contrary to wine, pálinkas are not ‘chased’ in the glass. Only a little of ‘swirling’ is allowed, at a stronger swirl alcohol comes to the surface and it will poke our nose and we feel a higher alcohol, than it actually is in reality. Just move it carefully, spread it evenly in the inner surface of the glass to increase the evaporation surface.
And now let´s taste. Take just a small sip into the mouth and let the pálinka run around on the palate, so it has a chance to evaporate further. The aromas thus return to the nose through the nostrils and are supplemented by a myriad of aroma components during swallowing. This experience cannot be beaten.
One trick to increase the experience – dry tasting: If the glass is empty, cover the bowl with your hand – here it’s allowed – to warm it slightly up, and thanks to the inner surface of the glass the aroma molecules show even more interesting things, enhancing the experience and supporting the memorization even further.
To sum it up: pálinka should be consumed at 20-22°C, out of a glass – tulip like shape – with foot, stem, proper bowl form and sip by sip only.
When should we drink Pálinka?
If we look for the true culinary value, it’s best to consume it by matching to food, usually after a meal, because of its digestive properties.
Consumption with moderation can be part of any event in our life. The quality producers, distillers are artists in my opinion, who deserve that their art work to be honoured through sensible consumption, and the pálinkas of excellence demand this.
Have fun and new experiences!
PÁLINKA IN THE WORLD OF COCKTAILS
I often get the question, can you make cocktail out of pálinka. Of course, you can, very fine, mixed drinks can be made out of our prestigious national spirit, but the reasons, why these cocktails have not found more ground, are diverse. One reason, why these creations are less known, because the typical pálinka lovers – similarly to the wine lovers – rarely mix their favourite drink into a cocktail, since they do not consider these creations exciting enough. And on the other side the quality pálinkas, which share the well-balanced, high quality, fruity flavour profile, and would be best suited for cocktail making as well, do not make it to the bartender’s hand as cocktail raw material, because of their price. There is a third factor as well, which every serious, internationally well-known spirit category uses to maximize benefit, yet the local pálinka manufactories do not exploit it enough – this is the fashion of long drinks, let just think of the following categories: gin, rum, whiskey.
Where would be these categories, if they wouldn’t be served with tonic, cola, ginger or as a base ingredient for one of the cocktails? These ‘long’ drinks can be easily prepared, look good in the customers’ hand or on the table, there is no need to order them every minute, like the short ‘shot’ drinks, and they reach out for the younger generation and the consumption of such drinks is also ‘trendy’.
Let’s have a closer look on the ‘long drink’ subject with our pálinka! For this purpose we should use a less pronounced, flavoursome pálinka as raw material, the grape marc pálinkas and the very characterful or ‘sharp’ products shall be avoided, the drier or actually sweeter, aromatic, fruity styles could be quite good choices, similarly to the so called bedded products. Just be open-minded, when it comes to the experimentation, topping up with tonic, ginger ale, ginger beer or ice tea variations can be a success and let’s not forget about the summer’s hip drinks, the lemonades. This later is surely a success, especially if we make it with home-made syrup, juice!
For instance a floral, sweetish grape pálinka or apple pálinka perfectly enhances the fresh, citrus-boosted elderflower juice. Yet an important detail, which is often overlooked with the long drinks, the beverage must be made from very cold, with ice cubes freshly taken out of the freezer, so it can chill down the cocktail suddenly, that it does not melt!
If we have any practice or enthusiasm in the creation of classic cocktails, we might as well enchant our guests with advanced preparations, for this we need a few equipments however. It is worth to keep in mind the oldest, yet still valid rule to consider regarding the making of cocktails (originally it applied to the ancient punch drinks), whereby the good cocktail is all about the sour, the sweet, the strong and the weak components. If we check the classical creations, all are built on this (Daiquiri, Margarita, Whiskey Sour, Cosmopolitan, Mojito…), but the world famous, modern variations also follow this rule to a certain degree.
Let’s look an example from the world of pálinka, one of my favourites, which I made first in the beginning of the year 2000:
Lady Marmalade: 4 cl Hungarian Apricot Pálinka, 2 small spoons of apricot jam, 2 cl freshly squeezed citrus juice.
Put all three ingredients into a shaker with plenty of ice in it (when melting this will give the ‘weak’ component) and shake them well. Pour it through a strainer (through a tight metal strainer) into a chilled glass, for decoration put a citrus peel spiral on the top of the cocktail, but a discrete edible flower can also be a worthy decoration.
Journey’s into the gastronomy: pálinka and food
Gastronomy is a Greek word with the meaning of Epicureanism, expert knowledge of food and drinks, sophisticated enjoyment, the art of eating, and the science of the relationship between gastronomy, culture and food. Of course, the responsible and cultured consumption of pálinka fits into this circle, but this enjoyment can be enhanced by the right matching of meals and drinks. There are several examples, when it comes to match food and wine, every housewife can at least mention one recipe for cooking with wine. But with pálinka it is somewhat different. Experience has shown, that neither the matching with food, nor the cooking with it is widespread, however their variations mean a source of billions of flavours and its usage is also not complicated.
How to choose pálinka to the food?
When it comes to matching, there are two basic principles : contrasting or complementing flavours. Important: whether we consider the pálinka as company or we put it even into the dish, our goal is to enhance the enjoyment. It is worth to pick one element of the food and pair the right pálinka or grape marc pálinka to it.
How to cook with pálinka?
There are some important practical rules, when it comes to cooking with pálinka:
- Cooking with pálinka is a long way of experimenting, it demands practice, patience, endurance and curiosity.
- Think about pálinka like a spice, using as a flavouring ingredient in small amounts.
- Using pálinka, compared to wine: the maindifference lies, that the spirit should be added towards to the very end, as a finishing move: when the food stopped boiling, cooking, baking or no longer gets heat. As during the heat treatment, the alcohol is evaporating, thus losing the valuable, volatile aromas of the pálinka.
- For piquant, strongly spiced food it is not worth to push the addition of pálinka, as it will highlight the spicy, piquant, sharp character and the aroma world will not change to our expectation.
- Adding pálinka like a final spice to soups, salads and finished food, mixing into cream soup, sprinkling to the salad.
- With meat dishes it is worth to add pálinka to their garnish, purée, sauce, dressing, if possible, as the last element.
- With dessert one can add pálinka into the cream, jam, syrup, sauce (avoiding here as well the high temperature).
- Fruit, removed from the so-called bedded pálinkas or fruit, soaked, macerated in pálinka, are capable to resist the high heat temperatures, for instance quick toasting – stuffed into something – and they preserve their alcohol content and part of their aromas as well.
For what else can pálinka be used?
We can be ‘routine consumers’ or even someone, who roasts his or her own coffee, few drops of pálinka deliver new joy in the enjoyment of our favourite drink, similar as one can experiment with tea leaves of different ripeness or different roasting temperatures or with the origin of the raw material. Generally tea and coffee are consumed warm, it’s a good stage for the pálinka as well to present the several hundreds of volatile treasures. Black tea for instance can be powered up by a little (1-2 centilitres) of Williams pear pálinka. The aromas of the pear act more beautiful, if one is carefully diluting it. Adding into our coffee a Muscat based grape marc pálinka or some berry fruit pálinka, like rowan- or chokeberry, due to their marzipan character the unknown aromas of the coffee become enhanced as well. In the followings we show some food and pálinka pairings, which may assist to free our imagination and create new gastronomic experience.
Let’s not forget about the most important rule of all: everything is allowed as long as we like it!
Pálinka with the food
- Amuse Bouche – Sous -vide duck breast, confir duck gizzard with soured onion and pear jellywith Granny Smith Apple Pálinka. At this pairing we selected the pálinka to the element of the pear. The two apple-based fruits – the Williams pear’s pear jelly and the apple basis of the pálinka – support the harmony. The apple, the apple blossom and the light jasmine notes with the waxy, oily body of the pálinka harmonize with the fresh, spicy, cool mouthfeel of the pear. The rosemary supports and backs up the spiciness of the pear.
- Risotto and Pálinka – Vanilla risotto vith chestnut, beetroot jelly, ‘fürtös’ sour cherry reduction and liquorice – with forest sour cherry pálinka. The two leading lines of the dish are the beetroot and the liquorice, their main aroma components are anise and eucalyptus, supplemented by some earthy notes. The nose of the chosen sour cherry pálinka is very diverse with almond, cinnamon, clove and freshly grated chocolate, which virtually carries all the aromas of the food, with this we are able to create a perfect explosion of flavours.
- Chocolae mouse with coffe, white currant and chlili – with Szomolyai black cherry pálinka. The leading aromas here are the coffee, the chocolate and the almond. The recommended pálinka for matching is an aged Szomolyai black cherry pálinka with the aromas of chocolate, vanilla, tobacco, cinnamon, black pepper, bitter almond and cherry blossom, they perfectly match with the concentrated chocolate, the dense body and the coffee character of the food, playful harmony between the warm and cold flavours.
When pálinka is added to the food
- ‘Furfangos’ (tricky)apple cream soup -Quince pálinka. The cream soup is made with apple, cream and spices (clove, carnation, lemon grass, salt). When it’s no longer boiling, add the quince pálinka. The sweet-sour and waxy notes of the apple are supplemented by the creaminess of the butter fat, which are rounded up and an additional excitement is added through the citrus and sweet spicy, compote like notes of the quince pálinka.
- Tenderloin ala Pálinka Master – Tenderloin roasted in skin with potato salad, fig and honey melon jam, vegetable – Aged Grape marc pálinka from Szekszárd. The jam and the pálinka are added to the steamed and pureed vegetables, when the vegetable puree is cooled down to around 60°C – before serving. The jam supplements the vegetables’ wilder green aromas with sweetness and oiliness. It harmonizes well and delivers a true firework of flavours with the pálinka, made mainly from red grapes, which is basically full-bodied and shares aromas of chocolate, red berry fruit and oakgiven vanilla, cinnamon and clove. The multitude of fragrances support the successful match, which crown the flavours of the meat.
- Enchanted salad. Mix of salads (lamb’s lettuce, lettuce), carrot, radish germ, dried plum, balsamic vinegar, walnut – Williams pear pálinka. Here we add the pálinka as a dressing/seasoning to the mixed salad. The pronounced floral, citrus, spicy aromas of the Williams pear with the slight spiciness of the radish germ and the oiliness of the walnut all together create the new flavours.
Csaba Pavlicsek and Endre Udó Dúl
The production technology of the pálinkas
During the production of pálinka we produce a so called mash from the fruit and then this will be correctly distilled.
During the mashing the fruit will be sorted, cleaned, washed, the kernels will be removed, the fruit will be chopped according to its type, thereafter it’s important, that the fermentation should start at the right condition and proceed as planned. Due to the biological processes the mash starts to ferment, hence the sugar content of the fruit is converted to alcohol. Yet this alcohol content is fairly low, around 1-8% abv (alcohol by volume) in total.
The distillation of the mash has two important objectives:
- increasing the alcohol content
- separating the volatile compounds (the mash has many volatile compounds, the less favourable ones have to be separated).
The distillation / refining, distillate fractions:
- The head: beside the alcoholic character it reminds someone of solvent, „Spiritus menthae cum sale”, diluent, nail polish remover on the nose, it contains readily volatile substances.
- The heart or mid cut: this is the true pálinka, which shows the respectful fruit type, aroma and flavour, the alcohol content is around 60-86% abv (alcohol by volume), this is the fraction, meant for consumption.
- The tail: it is characterized as heavy, unpleasant, sour odour, due to the longer chain carbon molecules of alcohol (such as butanol, propanol, etc.), this gives the pálinka the itchy, scratchy flavour, if it is not separated.
The production of the pálinka can be done by two different distillation systems:
1. One is called Kisüsti (kis means small and üsti means a traditional Hungarian pot, which is a maximal size of 1000-litre pot), also called as traditional double distillation method, this is the older process.
2. The other method goes in through a one course, single or better known as continuous system, yet several names reflect singularity (Rectification column, Column, Dephlegmator), that is more modern and energy-efficient.
1. During the kisüsti (pot still distillation) process the distillation takes place in two steps:
- During the first step with distillation 15-28% a.b.v. liquid is created, which contains all the volatile compounds, since there is no separation of fractions. This distillation is called raw spirit.
- In the second step the raw spirit is refined through re-distillation, whereby the alcohol content increases and with this the spirit fractions are also separated. The multiple distillations are energy-demanding processes (heating up and cooling down twice) as well as time consuming, hence modern technologies gain ground in the choice of the producers.
2. Continuous/Column/ Dephlegmator distillation method
With the continuous distillation the separation of the volatile compounds is made during the distillation, together with the alcohol content enrichment and the separation of the spirit fractions. The distilling system is used on the method of the rectification, which on the other hand is based on the principle of continuous distillation.
With both system it is true, that as the distillation process commences, the alcohol content is continuously decreasing in the mash and the quality of the volatile compounds is changing as well, according to their volatility. In order to obtain just the true characters of the fruit it is important to pay attention at the separation. The head, which comes at the beginning of the distillation ends, when the fine fruit aromas appear in the distillation, from here we call it heart. It is important to separate the heart and the tail from each other as well, at the right time (even at 65-68% abv) and finish the distillation. The alcohol received from the heart can be adjusted by adding soft water, dilute the product to the desired value.
The function of copper – the structural material of the distillation equipments
The distillation equipments have been made for centuries from (red) copper, not only because they look nice, but their good conductivity of metal, resistance against the acidic environmental of the mash and moreover their positive impact in terms of aromas during distillation were recognized. Its disadvantage however is the amortisation (it ecomes thinner), hence from time to time, it needs to be changed. Due to the technological improvement, the use of stainless steel materials became widespread amongst the industrial equipments, but the red copper has not yet been replaced by all the components.
The equipment can or must be made out of stainless steel, where there is a liquid phase, the corrosion is bigger, hence until the level of the mash in the pot, as well as in the cooling system of the distillation. At the steam phase – at the dome pot and the helmet or at column distillation at the plates/trays – it is useful to have a copper surface, since it promotes favourable transformation in the composition of aromatic precursors and binds the sulphur compounds as well.